A local synagogue's much-awaited remodel plans were praised by worshippers, neighbors and city officials alike before being unanimously approved at the Pleasanton Planning Commission's regular meeting last week.
Before voting during the April 14 meeting, Vice Chair Nancy Allen praised the Chabad Center for Jewish Life's "attractive and contemporary" new design of the center located at 3370 Hopyard Road, and called it a "significant upgrade" over the building's fire-damaged state of the past two years.
"I'm really excited about this attractive and contemporary building," Allen said. "Thank you for taking it this far; you didn't have to, and it's really appreciated."
Commissioner Brandon Pace also commended "the work and the vision" of the final design, and said it was "thrilling to see these reflections of representative pieces of our community be upgraded."
In a statement to the Weekly, Rabbi Raleigh Resnick thanked city officials, neighbors and "our team of architects for coming together to bring this new center to life," and said the congregation will "anxiously look forward to the grand opening."
A major remodel will incorporate contemporary and modern design elements and features to the building's facade, as well as two building towers on the south elevation. Along with enhanced landscaping such as trees, shrubs and vines, a new playground, outdoor terraces, and trash enclosure will also be added.
The playground area will have play equipment and shade covers, and an 8-foot-tall fence erected around the perimeter to lessen noise impacts from children attending on-site programs at the Gan Chabad Early Childhood Education Center. A "defined access route" from the daycare center to the playground will be marked by a new walkway and fence along the building's north side.
Though it's still unclear when construction will start exactly, Rabbi Resnick told the Weekly that it should be within a few months.
"Our plan is as soon as we get approval, to break ground ... but that's between the architects and building department," Resnick said.
The preschool is also tentatively set to open September 2022 -- "that's the hope," he said.
Besides worship services and the preschool and daycare programs, there will also be a Holocaust education center, library, teen center and kosher kitchen on site.
"We hope this to be a center that will be a dynamic, vibrant and welcoming center" that will add to Pleasanton's "cultural tapestry," Resnick said. "We really do hope it has an impact beyond the Jewish community."
In other business
An initial review of an East Bay congregation's application to build a new church and multipurpose building in west Pleasanton received positive feedback last week.
The workshop gave commissioners the opportunity to review the proposal from Resurrection Greek Orthodox Church, as well as hear public comment and give their own feedback to the applicant prior to the formal application process. No formal action was taken that evening.
With more than half of their parishioners living in the Tri-Valley, as well as Danville and San Ramon, "We feel that God has led us here," Father Niko Bekris of Resurrection Greek Orthodox Church told commissioners.
Located in Castro Valley since 1972, the congregation's current site is a repurposed Seventh Day Adventist church that has served them well, but Bekris said, "Still, we have always had a dream to one day build a traditional Byzantine temple."
The church has proposed subdividing the 16-acre site at Pleasant View Church of Christ, located at 11300 Dublin Canyon Road, into two parcels -- one for the Church of Christ, and a separate 4.3-acre portion for the proposed 9,792-square-foot Greek Orthodox Church, which would also include a 24,791-square-foot multipurpose building with a gymnasium.
Special consideration has been given to a number of details in the church's design such as specific shapes, materials, art work, and a dome extending over 53 feet high. "Everything in our architecture is meant to enhance the experience of the worshipper," Bekris said, from the icon of Christ inside the dome to "high ceilings covered with a rich tradition of Greco-Roman frescoes and mosaics with carved wood, which lead the viewer upward."
Bekris said "worship is very deliberately experiential" in the Orthodox Christian tradition, including iconography that is meant to be seen and touched, and Byzantine chant that "provides sensation for the ears and taste."
"Even the shape of the building and the use of marble contributes to a reverberation of acoustics to amplify the chanting in our services," Bekris added. "All of this is meant to assist the worshipper in feeling uplifted and otherworldly, heavenly experience."
About 138 people attend the church's largest service every Sunday, according to city staff, with overall membership anticipated to grow to about 350 people over the next 20 years. In addition to worship services, youth groups such as sports teams and the Girl and Boy Scouts are expected to make use of the facilities.
Commissioner Justin Brown said it was "a better proposal than the three homes" presented to them at one point, and that he looked forward to seeing a final version in the future, while a parishioner said during public comment that the church's relocation "will allow for expanded Greek and Mediterranean cultural expression to flourish in the Tri-Valley."
That expression is likely to take form through special events like the annual Greek Festival, which could potentially have more than 500 attendees. Construction of 121 parking spaces and a commercial kitchen would allow the site to accommodate the popular cultural event.
Based on the proposed site plan, staff said in a report that the site "will have adequate parking to support all users of the site at the church's maximum growth potential" and "be capable to meet the growing demand and anticipated congregation growth within the coming years."
City officials will also include a condition of approval "to ensure the operation of the church, including gymnasium use and special events, do not have any parking impacts on the surrounding area in the future, by requiring city approval prior to any changes in the operation or number of worship services, activities, events, or changes to the schedule or number of church group meetings."